Letter: Grim reality of workplace stress

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The Independent Online
Sir: So the answer is simple, according to Shirley Reynolds ('Stress? That went out with the Eighties', 2 February). If you're having problems at work and you're feeling 'stressed' the answer is to leave your job. Ms Reynolds is also quoted as saying: 'We know that people construct their own lives; and we know there are people who will always say that their life is awful and others who look on the bright side.' This is the Norman Tebbit school of psychology - a school that says it is the workers' own fault that they feel the way they do. They should pull up their socks, get on their bike and look for another job.

Ms Reynolds speaks as someone who is in a position to understand and influence her conditions of work. She may be fortunate enough to be able to control her life and to find a new job when she does not like her working conditions. For many others this is not an option.

Stress is a daily reality for ambulance personnel, firefighters and other 'frontline' workers. Stress is a reality for city bus drivers dealing with today's traffic or for council housing officers and social workers coping with no resources and aggressive clients. It is also a reality for the many low- paid workers in the service industries, on the production line and in sweat shops.

People, through their trade unions, are beginning to realise that feeling stressed, and suffering the subsequent symptoms, is legitimate and that it is not a weakness. That their work colleagues are experiencing the same problems. Employers have a legal duty to care for the welfare of their staff. This is a duty they must take seriously.

I do agree that stress management courses are not the answer. Working people know the answer and together, through their trade union, they can begin to articulate that answer and influence their working conditions. Employers should realise that trade unions are there to help their members, not to jeopardise jobs.

We look to psychologists not to blame workers for a situation not of their making but to assist them in legitimising those concerns and enable them to bring some control into their lives at work.

Yours faithfully,

TOM MELLISH

Equality and Social Policy

Department, TUC

London, WC1

3 February

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